septic systems

How Does My Septic System Work?

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So you fulfilled your dream of owning a country property where there is room to grow and you can enjoy the peace and quiet. More than likely, you have purchased a home that has a septic system. Buried in your yard and built to last, your home septic system may never have crossed your mind. But out of sight and out of mind, it still performs a vital task. So, how does my septic system work?

It’s simple: a tank, a network of pipes and billions of microscopic organisms. Yet it’s received every flush, every shower, and whatever else anyone who’s lived in your house has ever poured down the drain. Your septic system treats tonnes of organic waste each season. The tank treats sewage by letting the heavy solid material settle and allowing time for lighter “scum” to float to the top. This partly treated liquid then flows into perforated pipes, called the leaching bed, where it filters into the ground and is further treated. Helpful bacteria and other soil organisms do the bulk of the work.

Over time, your septic tank will accumulate solid material which must be pumped out. Allowed to accumulate, this sludge may reach the outlet level and begin flowing into the leaching bed. There, it can plug the pipes or the bed. Many septic systems are subject to increased usage, especially when additions are added to an existing home. The new volumes of water can strain the septic system to the point that it eventually gives up and stops working. What happens next? Well, a clogged septic system can be hazardous to the environment and your wallet. It can degrade water supplies and reduce your property value. The required repairs can be messy, often involving excavation and replacement of the whole drainage field. Frequently, the local building department will require replacement of the entire system and any damaged landscaping.

So what are some signs of a failing system? The grass over the system may become unusually green and spongy to walk on. Toilets, showers and sinks may take longer to drain, and may even start backing up. Occasional sewage odours may become noticeable, often after a rainfall. Sometimes, homeowners discover grey or black liquids surfacing in their yards or backing up through fixtures into the house. Whatever the warning sign, call in the experts at Hunter Plumbing, Heating & Excavating Inc. fast! We provide on-call emergency service 24/7 and can help repair your septic system problems by recommending the best solution. A call now, can save big bucks later.

Knowing what can happen, how can we help prevent these issues and keep our septic system running properly? Remember, if in doubt, don’t throw it out! Septic systems thrive on wastewater, but certain chemicals can cause major indigestion. Flushing even small amounts of paints, solvents, thinners, nail polish removers and other common household compounds (or pouring them down the drain) can poison the organisms that break down organic material. Laundry bleaches, toilet bowl cleaners and caustic drain openers can also slow the treatment process, allowing sewage to pass through without proper treatment.

Septic systems cannot digest oils, grease and fat. Poured down the sink or toilet, they congeal in pipes sometimes plugging them. Grease can also combine with detergents and flow into the drainage field where it may clog the soils. Fats can form in the top of the tank, and interfere with the biological activities taking place. All oily waste should go out with the garbage only.

Using your septic system to dispose of garbage is another no-no. In sink garbage disposals or garburators are unwelcome strains on the system. Disposable diapers, tampons and their holders, condoms, wrappers and many other kinds of refuse can plug and impair septic systems. Basically, if something doesn’t break down naturally, don’t flush it into your septic tank.

So there you have it, now you are an expert on your septic system and how to use it properly. Just remember it you do start to notice warning signs that your system may need attention, do not hesitate to call in a professional like Hunter Plumbing for our opinion and advice. A new septic system can prove very costly indeed.

Spring Cleaning Checklist

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Winters can be tough on your plumbing, with freezing temperatures putting a strain on your pipes and pressure on your tank, it’s no wonder homeowner’s experience unfortunate drips and leaks that didn’t exist last fall. Let Hunter Plumbing, Heating & Excavating Inc. help you with your spring cleaning checklist to ensure your plumbing, heating, water well, septic system and drains are in good working order! Here are 10 things to check over this spring:

  1. Check over your drains – Spring is here and so is the rain and wet weather. You need to make sure the drains in your home are clog free and ready to take on anything. If you have any unused or infrequently used floor drains in your basement, fill the trap by pouring in a gallon of water. You can also do this to test your sump pump by pouring a few buckets of water in your sump pump pit. The sump pump should immediately switch on and pump out the water before turning off again. If it doesn’t do this, it is best to get your sump pump checked over by the professionals at Hunter Plumbing and Heating before it’s too late and your basement floods.
  2. Check over your exterior plumbing – Your exterior plumbing can and will have a negative impact on your home if it is not in good working order. It is not uncommon for leaks and flooding to occur. Start by cleaning out all the gutters and eaves and ensure the downspouts are directed away from your house at the right degree. Check visible pipes and faucets for leaks or erosion. Also check your roof vents to ensure the mesh surroundings are clear of leaves, ice, sticks and possibly even a bird’s nest.
  3. Check over your water heater – You will want to check for leaks before anything else. Look around the bottom of the tank for water and around the fittings at the top of the water heater. Depending on if it is a big leak or a slow leak, there may be just a few drops of water or a big pool of water. If left unchecked, these leaks can become worse, more costly problems in the future. Also, look for the flush valve on your water heater and pump out a few gallons. This will drain out sediment and allow you to look for corrosion in the tank. Doing this once a year can actually make your water heater a more effective system and protect the life span of your water heater. Not comfortable checking this out yourself? Call in the experts at Hunter Plumbing and Heating! We provide service, maintenance and repair services on plumbing and water heaters!
  4. Check your toilets – While running toilets are easy to spot and hear, you may not know how to look for a leak. Try putting a few drops of food colouring into the tank of the toilet. If the colour appears in the toilet in less than an hour, it is time to get that toilet fixed. If you also notice water around the base of the toilet or water dripping from the supply, it is time to call in Hunter Plumbing and Heating to fix and/or replace your toilet to prevent further mold and water damage.
  5. Check your faucets for drips or leaks – Look over your kitchen and bathroom taps for water leaking around the base or water dripping from the drains under the sink. Ensure that all drains are in good working order and drain properly. If they are slow, check the drains for clogged food debris and hair. Clean mineral deposits from your shower heads, toilets, bathtub tap and faucets using vinegar or CLR. If you find you cannot unclog your drains yourself, or fix the leak at your faucet, call in the experts at Hunter Plumbing and Heating before the problem worsens and becomes more expensive!
  6. Check your septic system – Septic system cleaning is important for many reasons. The primary reason cleaning your septic system is important is to ensure that your septic system lasts as long as possible in good condition. It is recommended that your septic tank should be pumped out every 2-5 years, depending on the number of people living in your household. After the tank is pumped, call in the experts at Hunter Plumbing and Heating to inspect your system for potential problems that may arise, so you can get them fixed.
  7. Inspect your air conditioner – Your furnace has worked hard all winter and now is a good time to change your air filter if you haven’t already done so to get things ready for spring. Check over your air conditioner to ensure it is clean and there is no debris, such as leaves, in and around the unit. Hunter Plumbing, Heating & Excavating Inc. offers yearly air conditioner inspections, if you are unsure or notice a potential issue with your unit.
  8. Inspect your well – Snow and ice buildup can cause your well lid to crack, leaving areas for contaminants to enter. Inspect your well lid and casing and re-seal where necessary. Clean debris such as leaves, mulch, soil, etc. around your well and regrade the soil so water runs away from it. If you do notice any issues, or areas where bacteria and other contaminants could enter, call in the experts at Hunter Plumbing & Heating to inspect your well. We will recommend the best solution to protect you and your family.
  9. Install new batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors – Now is a good time to ensure these detectors are functioning in case there is an emergency.
  10. Inspect caulking – Be sure to inspect the caulking in your bathroom around sinks, toilets, taps, bathtub and shower surrounds. In your kitchen around sinks, taps and counter tops and around windows and doors. Re-caulk where necessary to prevent water seepage and mold growth.

Spring is a busy time of year both inside and out, but your household plumbing, heating, well and septic system should not be overlooked. Drips, leaks, and floods can become costly and easily ruin your home. If you are too busy, or notice a problem but don’t have the time or know-how to fix it, call Hunter Plumbing, Heating & Excavating Inc. at (519) 458-4488. We are here to help with your spring repairs and projects!

Well & Septic System Inspections

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When making that all-important decision of buying a home, check if there is a water well and/or septic system on the property. Homeowners must ensure that their well water is safe to drink, and that their septic systems are properly maintained. A malfunctioning well or septic system can pose a health risk to your family and your neighbours, and can be expensive to repair or replace. It is therefore very important to conduct a detailed inspection of both the well and septic systems prior to purchasing a home.

If the well is active, have both the water and the condition of the well inspected by one of Hunter Plumbing’s licensed well technicians before making the purchase. Our team of licensed professionals can thoroughly inspect, service and decommission your well to ensure you and your family are protected from bacteria and other contaminants that could enter your well.

Here are a few things we look at when we perform a well inspection:

  1. Well Record – Obtain a copy of the well record from the Ministry of Environment or the current homeowner. This will tell you the location of the well, date of well drilling, depth and diameter of well, static water level, pumping water level, recommended pumping rate and recommended pump setting.
  2. Location – A well should be located at least 15m or 50ft. from any source of contamination if the casing is watertight to a depth of 6m, otherwise, the separation distance should be at least 30m or 100ft. Sources of contamination can include septic system, manure storages, fuel storages, agricultural fields, and roads (salt runoff). Wells should also be located at least 15m or 50ft. from a body of water.
  3. Well Cap – The cap should be at least 0.3m or 12″ above the ground. The well cap and seal should be securely in place and watertight. This applies to both the well cap on drilled wells as well as the well cover on dug wells.
  4. Well Casing – There should be no visible cracks or settling of the well casing and the ground should slope away from the it.
  5. Drainage – Surface water should drain away from the well and water should not pool around the well casing.
  6. Well Pump – The well pump and distribution piping should all be in good working order.
  7. Abandoned Wells – All abandoned wells on the property must be decommissioned (plugged permanently) by a licensed well contractor to avoid contamination of the underground aquifer.
  8. Inside the Home – Check for sand or grit in the faucet strainer which may indicate a corroded well screen. Verify that the pressure tank reads 40-60 psi. Ensure that the check valve (or foot valve) is able to sustain the system pressure by drawing no water for 30 minutes to an hour and monitoring the pressure. The pressure should not drop and the pump should not start up during this dormant period.

We can also test the quality of your water for hardness, iron, sulphur and pH levels. Even if there is water treatment in the home, how can you be sure it is working properly? A water test will help determine if any levels are higher than the accepted concentrations, and how much it would cost for new/upgraded water treatment if need be.

If the septic system is active, have the condition of the septic tank & leaching bed inspected by one of Hunter Plumbing’s licensed septic system installers before making the purchase. A septic system should last anywhere from 20 to 25 years, and could cost upwards of $30,000 to replace, so it is important to get it inspected before you purchase your new home.

Here are a few things we look at when we perform a septic system inspection:

  1. Compare the size of the tank and the expected water use, observe the general condition of the tank including the baffles, partition wall, look for cracks and leaks. A steel tank is likely corroded and in need of replacement.
  2. Observe the water levels in the tank (too high suggests a clogged leaching bed while too low suggests a leaking tank).
  3. Have the septic tank pumped out by a septic pumping company (normally the homeowner pays for this when selling their home).
  4. Observe the connections to the house and the leaching bed, look for direct discharge of surface drainage into the tank.
  5. Clean the effluent filter by rinsing with an outdoor hose.
  6. Check for effluent on the surface, odours, lush growth, soggy field/saturate soil.
  7. Check for obstructions to the leaching bed (pavement over the bed or trees over the bed).
  8. Verify that surface drainage is directed away from the leaching bed (ie. – downspouts are not saturating the leaching bed).
  9. Dig test pits in the tile lines for signs of ponding water and slime growth.
  10. Inspect all mechanical equipment (pumps, aerators and alarms) to ensure they are in good working order.
  11. Check for leaking faucets and run-on toilets which can flood a septic system. Slow moving drains and sewer gas smells from flowing drains can also indicate a failing system.
  12. Verify the plumbing to ensure it meets current building code or health department standards.
  13. Inspect the sewer vent stack for damage or blockage.

A proper well and septic system inspection performed by Hunter Plumbing & Heating’s team of licensed professionals will ensure you are aware of any issues before you purchase your home so there are no surprises down the road! Call us today for a free quote on a well and septic system inspection. We can provide on-site written reports as well as letters and quotes on work that we recommend completing before you make the biggest purchase of your life.